Pitlochry to Thurso
I woke up slowly this morning, had my breakfast and said my goodbyes to Alana and Maeve, my new Irish friends before checking out and walking the very short walk to the station. The train was 10 minutes late, and the controller took the time to say that he was going to get information on the platform, and advise the next train that we were 3 people going there.
Finally they were able to catch up and we arrived on time. I went to platform 5 quickly as I had only 1 minute in between trains. The train had just 2 wagons, but for some reason they were not (or at least I didn’t see it) marked which wagon was A and which one was B. My place being A14, I obviously entered in wagon B, and because the train was going to leave soon, I decided to walk inside instead of outside in case it would decide to leave while I was changing wagons! I found my seat in a very quiet wagon, and enjoyed the scenery until Thurso. It was sunny for most of the way, we met a lonely shower for about 2 minutes right before arriving. Tomek, my couchsurfing host had asked me to let him know when I would be a few minutes away, so I called him and he told me he would be able to pick me up, but might be a few minutes late. I was very happy to have a chance to get a ride, not that it was very far from the station, but because it was so much colder than I expected. The weather in itself was not that bad, but the wind!!! It looked like and felt like true north when I got out of the train!
Tomek arrived soon, and within minutes we were at his place. I was lucky enough to have my own room with double bed and all!! Tomek and I had dinner and we went to see if we could access the caves. Unfortunately, it was high tides, so we could not, but I got to see why it is a popular destination for surfing. The waves were great.
He told me about a walk starting right behind the lighthouse. It was sunny so I decided to go. It was definitely worth it. I had my first close encounter with some sheep when I went through the first gate as a bunch of them were there with their babies. Adorable!!
I walked slowly through the first area, letting the sheep and little lambs enough time to move around so they would not feel threatened. I then made my way to the cliffs of Holborn Head. I enjoyed the view and the wind for a while before walking back to my house for the night.
Ferry to the Orkney Islands
The ferry from Thurso to Orkney actually leaves from a part of town called Scrabster, about 30 minutes walk from Thurso.
When I arrived at the ferry, I was following two girls with huge backpacks, so I assumed they were getting on the ferry, but no, they were just waiting with a bunch of people for the bus to the city. I was glad I asked right away as I could have waited for a long time! I made my way to the ticketing area, picked up my ticket and was told I could put my bag in a luggage storage, getting it back on the other side. I gladly obliged and went upstairs to the waiting area. I was the first one in.
When we were allowed on the ferry, I kept going back and forth between the deck 5 and 6 (the only two allowed) as the 6th had the outside deck and the 5th had a lot less people in the sitting area. I enjoyed the waves and realized how much I had missed the open sea.
When I arrived in Stromness, I was a little worried about finding the hostel, but I soon realized that it is such a small place that there is no way I would have missed it!
Biking on Orkney
Once I put my bag down in the small three-bed dorm, I left to find Orkney Cycle Hire. I followed the main road, which changes names a few time, and found it easily even though it looked like somebody’s private yard. Three biked were parked there. Nobody was there, but I had received an email saying if they could not make it there would be a bike with my name on it and instructions for payment. Sure enough, there was a paper on one of the bikes with my name on it, the code for the lock, and a small brown envelope for money. It said on the paper 10 pounds per day. Having booked the bike for 2 days, I put £20 in the brown envelope and followed the instructions. I had to put the envelope in the mailing trap, on the brown door number 45. At that precise moment, it sure felt like I was in a small village!
I hoped on the bike and set off in the wrong direction. I had been hoping to talk to somebody or get a map about directions, but I was on my own. I decided to make the most of it, thinking that worst case scenario, I would end up biking around town, enjoying the view and the activity and best case scenario I would actually find my way!
As I was leaving towards what would become the golf course, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but I found a viewpoint. I walked there, took a few pictures and got on the bike again. This time, I decided to follow the direction of most of the cars. I kept going uphill, and it was not easy. I found a brown sign saying something Brae, so I went up the stairs and up the never ending hill to an amazing view over the island. I had left my bike unlocked and was worried that it would not be there when I came back. Not because somebody would have taken it but because it was a hill and the bike could have easily gone downhill by itself.
I finally decided to use my GPS on my phone to get an idea of the itinerary, which turned out to be very easy… main road until you see the signs and even the standing stones from the road…
Once I knew where I was heading to, it was going well. I got pretty comfortable on the bike, and it was mostly flat and downhill. I made my way to the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Barnhouse Neolithic Village. The ring is quite similar to Stonehenge, but might actually be older. It consists of 12 stones from 3000 years BC. The interesting fact about this ring is that archaeologist found what looked like the remains of a village dating approximately the same period. The Barnhouse Neolithic Village is a partly reconstructed Stone Age village dating 3000 BC.
I walked around the stones first and then to the remains of the village before getting back on my bike to see another circle of stones; the Ring of Brodgar. This time the circle was much bigger. Unfortunately there were no interpretive sign over there, so I do not have much information on how, when and why this was built. It was originally a sixty stone circle with 36 now remaining as standing or as broken stones.
After this second short walk around the stone circle, I got back on the bike, and returned to Stromness. The road was not as easy as on my way there, partly because it was uphill, but mostly because I was getting very tired as it had been forever since I had last biked somewhere.